Regional Governance of Syndromic Surveillance for the Texas Gulf Coast

Wesley McNeely, Eunice R. Santos, Biru Yang, Kiley Allred, Raouf R. Arafat

Abstract


ObjectiveDescribe and explain the transition of the syndromic surveillanceprogram at the Houston Health Department (HHD) from being alocally managed and aging system to an ESSENCE system governedby a regional Consortium of public health agencies and stakeholdersin the 13-county area of the southeast Texas.IntroductionSyndromic surveillance systems are large and complex technologyprojects that increasingly require large investments of financial andpolitical capital to be sustainable. What was once a minor surveillancetool in the mid-2000s has evolved into a program that is regardedas valuable to public health yet is increasingly difficult to maintainand operate for local health departments. The Houston HealthDepartment installed a syndromic surveillance system (SyS) sixyears before Meaning Use became known to healthcare communities.The system chosen at the time was the Real-time Outbreak DiseaseSurveillance System (RODS) which, at the time and for its purpose,was a suitable platform for syndromic surveillance. During the past13 years however, maintaining, operating, and growing a SyS by alocal health department has become increasingly difficult. Inclusionin Meaningful Use elevated the importance and profile of syndromicsurveillance such that network growth, transparency of operations,ease of data sharing, and cooperation with other state systems inTexas became program imperatives.MethodsWith support from the informatics group at Tarrant County PublicHealth (TCPH) in the form of mentoring, HHD devised a two prongstrategy to re-invigorate the syndromic program. The first was toreplace RODS with ESSENCE from Johns Hopkins Applied PhysicsLaboratory (JH/APL). The second was to strengthen the regionalnetwork by creating a governance structure that included outsideagencies and stakeholders. The product of this second effort wasthe creation of the Syndromic Surveillance Consortium of SoutheastTexas (SSCSeT) on the Communities of Practice model1usingparliamentary procedure2.ResultsAcquiring ESSENCE and forming SSCSeT were necessary stepsfor the continuing operation of the SyS. The Consortium includesmembers from local health jurisdictions, health care providers, healthpolicy advocates, academicians, and data aggregators. Created asa democratic society, SSCSeT wrote its constitution and by-laws,voted in officers, formed working groups and has begun developingpolicies. The Consortium is cooperating with the Texas Departmentof State Health Services (DSHS) as well as TCPH. Having ESSENCEwill ensure the HHD-SyS will conform to standards being developedin the state and provide a robust syndromic platform for the partnersof the Consortium.ConclusionsSyndromic systems operated by local health departments canadapt to regulatory changes by growing their networks and engagingregional stakeholders using the Communities of Practice model.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v9i1.7660



Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 * http://ojphi.org